Testimonial of Ishbel Newstead

Ishbel Newstead
Retired Special Education Teacher
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
2017 Asia Study Tour Participant

Having the opportunity to be a part of the 2017 Peace and Reconciliation Asia Study Tour has been an amazing, life changing experience. It is hard to believe that two years ago, although history has been a major part of my life, I was ignorant to this crucial part of world history. In retrospect, I now feel centred and able to take on new challenges. Meeting with survivors, their advocates and activists for justice has made this experience so memorable and even cathartic.

As a group, we were privileged to meet so many survivors in Quzhou, Nanjing, Beijing and at the House of Sharing, near Seoul. These women and men, who have suffered so much and for so long, showed me that despite the atrocities they have endured, they view their lives in such a positive way. They expressed their thanks to our group for coming so far to listen to their stories. That was truly humbling! They are the victims and we are the listeners hoping to educate future generations to not make the same mistakes.

The stories were heart wrenching and unbelievable. But, these wonderful people managed somehow to carry on with life. Although all the survivor stories were breathtaking and poignant, a simple statement made by Ms Ye Sai Chou at the Quzhou Minquon Hospital still rings in my ears. After greeting us at the bus, I thought at first she was a hospital director, she escorted the group to the top floor and stated, “ I wish I could host you at my own home instead of here.” She was so gracious and cheery, even mentioning that she looks forward to the future, that it made me tearful.

Each and every survivor left me with the need to share their experience and somehow help them get the justice that they so much deserve.

The many professors and justice advocates that we met will have a lasting impression on me. Their passion for relentlessly digging into the past through oral histories, archives and artifacts is ferocious. They will stop at nothing to find out the truth.

The words of Representative Mee-Hyang Yoon at the War and Women’s Rights Museum (spoken at both the museum and at the Demonstration) still echo in my ears. Although I could not understand the Korean language, I understood the words since her message came across so clearly. My interpretation, “Tell the truth, admit what happened and apologize now!”

Writing this on the plane, on my way to my own safe place, my ears are still full of the words of the survivors/victims of this ‘forgotten holocaust’ and their advocates, pushing me to share their stories with Canadians from all generations, in the hope that through learning about these experiences, somehow (finally) justice will be served.

I sincerely thank NJ ALPHA for giving me access to this irreplaceable opportunity of a lifetime to visit China and Korea. Not only did we tour these remarkable countries, we were given the chance to understand, first hand, the torment these wonderful people endured and so willingly shared with our study tour group.

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